Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. –Psalm 42:11
The psalmist asks the same two questions in our verse–and gives the same firm reply–that he asked and answered just six verses earlier (42:5). And he does it again five verses later in Psalm 43:5. That repetition alone should grab our attention. The context tells us that the writer is, among other things: depressed, discouraged, lonely, forsaken, and rejected. He states earlier in this often-quoted psalm how his soul, in its longing for the Lord, is like a deer who pants for water. He is evidently far away from Jerusalem and longs to be in the house of the Lord.
Some scholars believe this is a psalm David wrote when he was in hiding due to the threats from his son, Absalom. If so, that gives us a good mental picture of how terrified he was. But even if it was written under different circumstances, the message is still poignant as we consider the host of difficulties God’s people might face then or now.
Does it encourage you to know that discouragement is not a new or uncommon problem for believers? Satan skillfully taunts all of us with unbiblical thoughts and exaggerated notions of our current circumstances. We must intentionally discipline our thought life to fight against these errant feelings before they fester and grow.
The psalmist asks himself twice why he is feeling this way, but he does not answer his own questions. Instead, he wisely counsels himself with a rapid return to reality from the pit of despair. No matter the circumstances, he reminds himself to simply “Hope in God.” So much truth is wrapped up in those three words. As Christians, all of our hope is in the Lord who has reconciled us to Himself through the precious blood of His son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. He sovereignly guides our steps. The psalmist could have stopped there, yet all three times this verse is repeated, further encouragement follows, predicting that as our hope returns, so will our praise for our great God who is our salvation.
Some Christians facing dire circumstances would likely be insulted by a seemingly simple admonition to “hope in God.” They would assume we have no idea what it’s like to walk in their shoes, and they would be right. But we do know our Sovereign God. We trust Him and know that nothing escapes Him as all is sifted through His hand, no matter who we are.
In his classic book, Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes an excellent point related to this text. About David he says, “His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’” (pp. 20-21).
Lloyd-Jones goes on to suggest that instead of listening to the voices in our heads, we need to preach truth from the Word to ourselves. That's what texts like Psalm 42:11 model for us. What excellent advice! We need to listen to the infallible words of Scripture we have intentionally memorized. Verses like this one must be in our arsenal so that, as the hymn says, “when Satan tempts us to despair,” we are ready to shoot down his lies with God’s Word. It’s simple but profound–hope in God. Our praise shall again return. Count on it!
What is your typical response to discouragement and depression?
What verses have you memorized that would encourage your soul in difficult circumstances?
Ask the Lord to bring those verses to mind, and show you others that would help you speak His Word to your soul, the next time you're down.
Mary K. Mohler is the author of Growing in Gratitude and Susannah Spurgeon: Lessons for a Life of Joyful Eagerness in Christ. She is the wife of Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary; and is the director of the Seminary Wives Institute. She says, “Scripture memory is one of the most vital and rewarding tasks I have ever undertaken. The Lord has used it to draw me near, to encourage me in hard times, to enhance my prayers for myself and others, and to teach its importance to those I mentor.”